A simple journaling method I’ve been using

Early this year as part of my preparations for what I knew would be a busy year, I developed a simple journaling ritual.

I do this in the morning, before kicking off my work for the day. It is part of a bigger ritual in which I clarify the tasks I need to do for the upcoming day/week.

I do it online in an app called Workflowy which I also use to manage my to-do lists. I’ve long since abandoned the art of writing by hand. My handwriting is terrible.

My journaling method is very basic. It takes me only a couple of minutes. It consists of little more than about 5 sentences.

Those five sentences address five reflection points that I’ve surmised from the research have potential value.

  1. What setbacks I am currently facing – I took this from Stoic practices described by William Irvine that focus one’s attention on solving problems, rather than lamenting them. The goal is to articulate the setback/challenge and then focus on developing solutions from a place of equanimity, rather than stress or anxiety.
  2. What wins I’ve had and things I am grateful for – I took this from gratitude practices that encourage us to take note of the good things in life. These can range from the very small (I enjoyed my breakfast), the social (someone was kind) to the big milestone events (a project is completed).
  3. How I am feeling at the time of writing – I took this from the mood monitoring literature that suggests insights can be gained from assessing one’s mood regularly. I also do this because I have noted that my emotion vocabulary is quite limited. Getting an emotions chart can help you locate better the word to describe how you are feeling.
  4. Things I’ve been reflecting on in terms of lessons about my self – I took this (tangentially) from the education literature which suggests self-reflection is a powerful avenue for learning. The goal is some kind of actionable insight about my strengths, weaknesses, likes, dislikes, personality.
  5. What I’ve learned recently that was interesting – I do this to try and ensure that I am staying open to learning new things. This is particularly easy as I often use the walk before my journaling time to listen to podcasts. Usually 1 big idea or concept stands out from each podcast.

So a journal entry might look something like:

Don’t worry if that doesn’t really make sense to you. It makes sense to me and that is what is important.

If you were to develop a basic journaling practice, what would it look like?

I’ve written about self-reflection/writing exercises that promote health before. You might get some clues from that.

But let’s face it, there are thousands of articles online about journaling that provide you with clues on ‘how-to’ do it. Everyone has their method that they feel promotes clear thinking and productivity.

The bigger question you need to ask yourself is ‘why’ you would do it. For me, journaling is a way of grounding myself in the present moment before kicking off the day. I can take stock of my life, how I feel and what is consuming my thought bandwidth before setting my tasks for the day. It is equal parts wellbeing strategy and productivity tool.

Steal it if you like it. Ignore it if you don’t.

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